When you’re out of ideas, think of The Beatles

A funny coincidence happened today. This morning, fellow blogger Neil asked Facebook what should he do to solve writer’s block? I suggested reading his RSS queue for inspiration. Then, a couple of hours later, I made a presentation to students at Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business. Afterwards, a keen student came up to me and asked almost the same thing: “What do you do when you just can’t think of an idea?”

My reflex response was a laughing “never happens”. But then I realized I owed her a more thoughtful explanation.

Here’s how it works: We start by putting all of our lame, obvious and cliché ideas on the table, just to get them out of the way. And by doing so, we both clear our minds and sometimes see a something we can build on, mutate, or make fun of. And then we’re off.

Non-creatives may not have experienced this kind of mental purging, but it isn’t exclusive to advertising. You can see it in any creative process, from visual art, to literature to music. Artists doodle. Writers jot (or blog, in my case). And musicians? They jam.

And this line of thinking got me on to The Beatles. As a Fab Four nerd since childhood, I was reminded of how painful it was to watch the film Let It Be. Filmed in early 1969, it was supposed to be a grand immersive experiment — letting fans into the intimacy of the studio as the world’s most famous rock band composed and recorded their new album.

Instead, it was a complete disaster. They were breaking up before your eyes. But for the hardcore fan, it is still a fascinating insight into a previously hidden creative process. What did the Beatles do when they were uninspired? They kept playing. Rock and roll standards, golden oldies of their own, dirty limericks, anything.

This raw footage gives you some idea of the disorganized cacaphony:

And yet from that, when the pressure was on to release a single, they managed to craft this:


And this:

And many more. The leftovers got recycled into most of side two of Abbey Road.

The moral of the story is that everyone has off days. Even weeks. But the most important thing is to get back to your roots. Allow yourself to get the laziness and disorganization out of your system so you can make a fresh start. Producing crap is better than producing nothing, because it will at least get you into the rhythm of creativity. And that muse won’t let you down.


[Image via Sharon Drummond]

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